The White Man's Burden

The White Man's Burden

Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good

Book - 2006
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Penguin Putnam
An informed and excoriating attack on the tragic waste, futility, and hubris of the West's efforts to date to improve the lot of the so-called developing world, with constructive suggestions on how to move forward.

William Easterly's The White Man's Burden is about what its author calls the twin tragedies of global poverty. The first, of course, is that so many are seemingly fated to live horribly stunted, miserable lives and die such early deaths. The second is that after fifty years and more than $2.3 trillion in aid from the West to address the first tragedy, it has shockingly little to show for it. We'll never solve the first tragedy, Easterly argues, unless we figure out the second.

The ironies are many: We preach a gospel of freedom and individual accountability, yet we intrude in the inner workings of other countries through bloated aid bureaucracies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank that are accountable to no one for the effects of their prescriptions. We take credit for the economic success stories of the last fifty years, like South Korea and Taiwan, when in fact we deserve very little. However, we reject all accountability for pouring more than half a trillion dollars into Africa and other regions and trying one "big new idea" after another, to no avail. Most of the places in which we've meddled are in fact no better off or are even worse off than they were before. Could it be that we don't know as much as we think we do about the magic spells that will open the door to the road to wealth?

Absolutely, William Easterly thunders in this angry, irreverent, and important book. He contrasts two approaches: (1) the ineffective planners' approach to development-never able to marshal enough knowledge or motivation to get the overambitious plans implemented to attain the plan's arbitrary targets and (2) a more constructive searchers' approach-always on the lookout for piecemeal improvements to poor peoples' well-being, with a system to get more aid resources to those who find things that work. Once we shift power and money from planners to searchers, there's much we can do that's focused and pragmatic to improve the lot of millions, such as public health, sanitation, education, roads, and nutrition initiatives. We need to face our own history of ineptitude and learn our lessons, especially at a time when the question of our ability to "build democracy," to transplant the institutions of our civil society into foreign soil so that they take root, has become one of the most pressing we face.

Baker & Taylor
Argues that western foreign aid efforts have done little to stem global poverty, citing how such organizations as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are not held accountable for ineffective practices that the author believes intrude into the inner workings of other countries. By the author of The Elusive Quest for Growth. 60,000 first printing.

& Taylor

Argues that Western foreign aid efforts have done little to stem global poverty, citing how such organizations as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are not held accountable for ineffective practices.

Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2006
ISBN: 9781594200373
Characteristics: 436 p. : ill. ; 25 cm


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Aug 20, 2011

I liked this book much better than the previous commentator but agree with that person that it has a lot in common with Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid, and that Moyo wrote the better book.

Easterly writes as a former IMF insider about Western assistance programs and gives readable and highly useful summaries of his own and other people's research. There are mini-biographies scattered throughout the book on Third World people working to improve their own lives or those of their compatriots that are touching and truly inspiring.

Easterly is much less successful when he argues essentially that all Western political and military interventions abroad have been fruitless. He assumes a historian's mantle that doesn't properly fit him. For example, he writes as if in the Bosnian War in the 1990s, only the Serbs committed war crimes, never the Croats or the Muslims. (In fact, there are lots of passages that suggest his knowledge of history was garnered from reading the collected speeches of William Jefferson Clinton.) When he denounces the West defending South Korea against aggression in the Korean War, he goes beyond simple cluelessness, and seems slightly unhinged.

Mar 20, 2011

Lot of words that state the obvious, D. Moyo's Dead Aid is a better read on this issue of aid to Africa and the lack of results


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